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The White People and Other Stories (2003)

by Arthur Machen

Other authors: S. T. Joshi (Editor)

Series: Best weird tales of Arthur Machen (volume 2), Call of Cthulhu Fiction (6035)

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2013118,164 (3.62)16
Born in Wales in 1863, Machen was a London journalist for much of his life.Among his fiction, he may be best known for the allusive, haunting title story of this book, "The White People", which H.P. Lovecraft thought to be the second greatest horror story ever written (after Blackwood's "The Wilows"). This wide ranging collection also includes the crystalline novelette "A Fragment of Life", "The Angel of Mons", (a story so widely reported that it was imagined true by millions in the grim initial days of the Great War), and "The Great Return", telling of the stately visions which graced the Welsh village of Llantristant for a time. Four more tales and the poetical "Ornaments in Jade" are all finely told. This is the second Machen volume edited by S. T. Joshi and published by Chaosium. The first volume was The Three Impostors.… (more)
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Showing 3 of 3
Dry and boring.
Have you ever sat down and read a book and when you're done sit there and ask yourself "WTF did I just read?" This is definitely one of those books. I mean I can't even really write a description of what this book was about because I didn't seem to understand it. And there is no description on the back of the book in which to copy for you. The text is just so very hard to follow. It's written in an old-fashioned sort of way but not even in an Old English type of way. I'm sorry but it's very difficult for me to describe this book. It was just very very difficult to understand and follow the story lines.
I mean it's supposed to actually be a horror type book... I think...
To make matters worse the book is written in such a fashion that it literally tastes like a dry piece of toast in your mouth. Nothing on it no honey no jelly no peanut butter no nothing. Just dry as dry can be.
I would not recommend this book to anyone. ( )
  SumisBooks | Sep 1, 2018 |
This second book is far more uneven than The Impostors and Other Stories, editor Joshi's first volume of collected weird Machen. It begins with "The Red Hand," a story featuring Machen's old duo Dyson and Phillips, and consistent with his earlier works. After that, it's off to very different material. The imagistic "Ornaments in Jade" are described by Joshi as "prose-poems," and whatever the merits of that description, they are wonderful stuff. None of them is more than a few pages long, and they are nearly plotless, but highly evocative.

The lauded story "The White People" caught me quite by surprise. I had been expecting something more along the lines of Machen's earlier weird work; in fact I worried that it might be something of a re-tread of "The Shining Pyramid" or "The Novel of the Black Seal." But it turned out to be more like "Ornaments in Jade": light on plot, and thick with psychotropic sensory detail. One thing that impressed me was its extreme (yet subtle) nesting of narratives: the interlocutors Cotgrave and Ambrose form the outermost story, but the main tale is in the green MS book full of a girl's personal reminiscences, which themselves include stories, sometimes containing further stories. E.g. the girl's nurse recounts having been told certain things by her great-grandmother, which then become a story-within-within-within-within-within... This method of dropping through narrative frames is actually a reliable technique for hypnotic induction, and it shouldn't be surprising that it literally entrances readers, and possibly has an effect on their dreams! Other trance induction methods prominent in "The White People" include chants and nonsense rhymes, physical spinning and dancing, and solitude. The narrative voice of the girl in the story is surprisingly convincing and effective, considering that Machen seems to have shed none of his earlier misogyny. I was struck by this remark from Ambrose early on:

"We should [feel horror in the presence of true evil] if we were natural: children and women feel this horror you speak of, even animals experience it. But with most of us convention and civilization and education have blinded and obscured the natural reason." (66)

If "The White People" surprised me, "A Fragment of Life" totally bowled me over. Reading this story on its own seemed to give me all the evidence I could want that Machen had actually attained to some sort of mystical adeptship, in order to be able to relate the experiences he attributes to his protagonist Darnell, who at the story's outset "lived in the grey phantasmal world, akin to death, that has somehow, with most of us, made good its claim to be called life." (121)

The wartime fantasies of The Angels of Mons (including "The Bowmen") had slight literary merit in their own right. But their inclusion was totally necessary because of the odd reflexive impact that the accidental hoax of the "angels" had on Machen's work as a writer. (People who believed the "urban legend" generated by Machen's story strongly resisted his attempts to deflate it.) In all of his subsequent fiction, the authorial voice of the fantasist is strangely knotted up with the conscientious journalist. This syndrome is especially apparent in "The Great Return," but that 1915 story was most interesting to me for its precocious deployment of mescaline effects as a device to explain mystical states (223-224). The brief "Out of the Earth" is in many ways a recreation of Machen's earlier "The Shining Pyramid," but in the style of the new, war-era Machen, while "The Coming of the Terror" manages to foster quite an aura of mystery and terror, but lacks the sense of numinous wonder that brings me back to Machen's work. "The Happy Children" contains elements of "The Great Return" packed into the brief fictional legend format of the stories from The Angels of Mons.

So, while the war-era works were worth reading, they didn't impress me deeply. But "The White People" and "A Fragment of Life" cemented for me Machen's status as a literary exponent of true esoteric initiation.
6 vote paradoxosalpha | Jan 9, 2012 |
well, I must say that Volume II in this series (Chaosium/Call of Cthulhu Fiction) was a tremendous letdown after Volume I. For some reason, Machen had been criticized for his earlier works because he had been writing in the style of Robert Louis Stevenson, and considering his situation at the time, was probably trying to do much to sell his works. However, personally, I think he should have left his style all alone. The earlier stories (from Vol. I) were so much more well written than these.

This is, of course, an anthology and you sort of expect that there are going to be some rather less likeable stories contained within. But at least in my opinion, that's an understatement in this case.

I can't go through the entire contents list but I will give you the stories that were my favorites:

1. The Red Hand - Another story featuring that indomitable duo, Dyson & Phillipps. I'm going to check to see if there is a collection of these stories in print somewhere so they're all together. This story was wonderful, mysterious, and fun to watch being solved.

2. The White People - In this story, a young girl is slowly being introduced to otherworldly forces as set forth in her memoirs found in a book. Very eerie, and the descriptions are vivid, enabling the reader to capture in his or her mind the settings of the story. Simply a phenomenal story.

3. The Great Return - A marvelous story, invoking legends of the Fisher King and holy grail.

4. The Terror - I think I would label this one as an anti-war story. Aside from the White People, this was my favorite. Eerie happenings turn nature against man. Is it because of a German secret weapon? Or what? This story was set during the time of WWI, and really gives a perspective on war as a universal concept.

Overall...the book was fine. I really liked how Machen used landscape as a character throughout the book. Many authors try this and bomb, but in his work, which also tends to conjure up Celtic mythology, his use of this device is excellent. I feel bad that his works were not popular at the time, but then again, at least we have the opportunity to read them now.

Recommended if you want to get some insight into where HP Lovecraft got a lot of his ideas (they're all through this book and Vol. I) or if you want to take on a bit of the supernatural without having to resort to the hack-em slash-em stuff out there on the market. ( )
3 vote bcquinnsmom | Apr 27, 2007 |
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Machen, Arthurprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Joshi, S. T.Editorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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The final years of Machen's "great decade" of fiction writing --- the period between 1887 and 1901 when, thanks to a timely inheritance, he was able to devote his energies entirely to his art without thought of monetary recompense --- produced several of the works for which Machen is known today.
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Born in Wales in 1863, Machen was a London journalist for much of his life.Among his fiction, he may be best known for the allusive, haunting title story of this book, "The White People", which H.P. Lovecraft thought to be the second greatest horror story ever written (after Blackwood's "The Wilows"). This wide ranging collection also includes the crystalline novelette "A Fragment of Life", "The Angel of Mons", (a story so widely reported that it was imagined true by millions in the grim initial days of the Great War), and "The Great Return", telling of the stately visions which graced the Welsh village of Llantristant for a time. Four more tales and the poetical "Ornaments in Jade" are all finely told. This is the second Machen volume edited by S. T. Joshi and published by Chaosium. The first volume was The Three Impostors.

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Civilized behavior is not instinctive. Ecstatic nightmares and infernal miracles undermine the comforts and hopes of our oridinary existence. But, infernal or supernal, Machen's extraordinary prose evokes the grace and hell of life with equal facility, and freshens our eyes and hearts.
H. P. Lovecraft declared Arthur Machen (1863-1947) to be a modern master who could create "cosmic fear raised to its most artistic pitch." This second volume of his work contains the short novel A Fragment of Life, ten short stories including a rarely seen abridgement, "The Coming of the Terror" and the superb title story, "The White People". Ornaments of Jade, a much praised set of prose-poems, completes the volume.
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